A Star Is Born
Dr. Phillip Calvin McGraw, a clinical psychologist, began his practice in his native Texas in 1979, just as the revelation of taboo secrets was picking up steam. He practiced therapy for 10 years during the heyday of tell-it-all trauma. He quit clinical practice because, as he's famously said, he "didn't have the patience for it"; he saw no virtue in whining, or on dwelling upon pain. And the intricacies of therapeutic delving didn't suit his solution-oriented mind. But he did see that psychological insights might be commodified and sold.
He cofounded Courtroom Sciences, Inc., a company that employed psychological research to assist trial lawyers in areas like jury selection. His company's client list is impressive: Exxon (in court over the Exxon Valdez oil spill), The New York Times, many Fortune 500 companies, and, as fate would have it, Oprah Winfrey herself. Oprah had offended the cattle industry and was fighting a suit in an Amarillo court. She hired Courtroom Sciences, Inc., won her case, and hit it off with Courtroom Sciences' Dr. Phillip McGraw.
Invited on her television show, he became a Tuesday regular, and her Tuesday TV ratings quickly became her highest. On Oprah, he morphed into Dr. Phil, a doctor who had no patience for victims. His attitude might be summed up as: "You can talk about that stuff, and that's good, but now get real. What are you going to do about it?!"
Dr. Phil struck a nerve--and had a point. To people identifying solely with their pain, he offered other, more traditionally American, self-reliant avenues of identity. Dr. Phil was a corrective to a victim-oriented psychology that had bloated into a fad.
His approach might have been popular coming from any charismatic guy named Phil, but he's Dr. Phil. His background as a clinical psychologist was his entry pass, his source of authority. Clearly, he wasn't practicing psychotherapy on Oprah. Just as clearly, though, Dr. Phil spoke for himself, but as a psychotherapist. As his website says, he draws on "30 years of experience in psychology and human functioning." In the context in which he's presented, there's no mistaking that, when he speaks, we're listening to a therapist.
With his popularity proven by her Tuesday ratings, Oprah and her producers conceived a wider format for him-- The Dr. Phil Show. It was an instant megahit, second only to Oprah herself in the daytime ratings. Dr. Phil went from being a celebrity to being a phenomenon: tune in the show, buy the bestselling books, visit the website, and get real.
But the question remains, what's the reality behind "get real"?